With over 5,000 miles of coastline, you are never far from the beach anywhere in Italy. Only one region, Umbria, out of a total of 20, is landlocked. No matter what your beach style is, there is one for you. There are wild, empty stretches with dunes in Tuscany and tiny, crowded coves in the Cinque Terre. From the Lido, a short ride a away from Venice, to the clear blue water found at the very bottom of the country in Puglia, there is a beach for every season and every mood. The island of Sardinia alone has well over 500 beaches. In the summer months, beach clubs with sun loungers, umbrellas to rent and restaurants for lunch dot the shoreline. Italy’s mild climate, particularly the further south you go, means you can visit the beach virtually any time of year.
There are over 400 islands in Italy. Even the city of Rome has one! Sicily, Elba and Sardinia are almost like countries in their own right with unique cuisines, language and landscapes. Sicily has entire sets of its own islands, with the Aeolian islands on one side and the Egadi islands on the other. The glamorous island of Capri is within easy reach of Florence, Rome and Naples where you can try the famous Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil and dance the night away at one of the island’s hotspots. Visit the thermal baths on the island of Ischia or go hiking on Palmaria Island off the coast of the famous Cinque Terre towns.
Italy boasts 51 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which makes it home to more sites than any other country in the world. Did you know that every twist and turn from Positano to Vietri on the Amalfi Coast is one? The historic centers of towns like Siena, Florence and Pienza in Tuscany are also on the list. There are magnificent ancient temple ruins to visit in Paestum and Agrigento and don’t miss the active volcano of Mount Etna.
The Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo, the many Raphaels in the Pinacoteca, La Primavera by Botticelli — there is a mind boggling amount of priceless masterpieces in just the Vatican museums and the Uffizi galleries alone. If you only spent one minute in front of each work of art in the Vatican it would take four years to see each piece! There are also numerous smaller, quieter collections like the family collection inside the Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome and the incredible cycle of Tintoretto’s at The Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. The marble sculpture of the Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sammartino at the Museo San Severo in Naples is a wonder to behold. Is contemporary art your thing? The Venice Biennale held every two years gathers the biggest names and sometimes strangest works and installations in national pavilions inside the Giardini and the nearby Arsenale complex.
Italian cuisine is incredibly hard to define. Italy is a fiercely regional country and even short distances can mean dramatic differences in terrain, language and food. In the north, stews served on top of polenta and apple streusel are popular. In Sicily, there are strong Arabic influences with dishes like couscous and raisins on the menu. Roman food is rustic and hearty with pastas that have few ingredients and bold flavors like amatriciana and cacio e pepe. On the Amalfi Coast, seafood reigns. One thing you will find in every single region, however, is gelato. A scoop of this cold creamy treat as an afternoon snack is something every Italian will agree on.
Italy has literally thousands of different grape varieties and has surpassed France in the amount of wine it produces. Much of what is produced is done on such a small scale that the bottles can’t be found outside of the region, let alone outside of Italy, so it’s easy to expand your horizons beyond glasses of Chianti and Pinot Grigio. A good rule to remember is if it grows together, it goes together, so on the Amalfi Coast look for wines from Campania, and if you are in Venice drink bottles produced in the Veneto region. Look out for enotecas, wine shops that almost always sell wines by the glass and small plates.